Small Changes Make a Big Difference

How to shave calories without reducing your satisfaction

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

With obesity a "top of mind" issue, most adults are looking for quick and easy ways to lose a few pounds. Sixty-two percent of us would benefit from curbing weight gain or losing a notch or two on the belt buckle. However, setting out to lose large amounts of weight can be overwhelming especially at this time of year.

Regrettably, most of us pack on 3 to 5 pounds each year during the holidays, and then we resolve to lose a few pounds on New Year's Day. The problem is that we end up keeping at least one of those extra pounds forever. Over time, those pounds add up and weight creeps slowly into the danger zone along with increased risks of heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and many other diseases including some forms of cancer.

Weight Maintenance the Goal

Consider the advantages of simply maintaining your weight -- shaving enough calories to put the lid on the yearly weight gain. By simply making a few small changes in your eating style, you can avoid the annual holiday weight gain and stay rock steady at your present weight. It is as easy as 1-2-3. Weight maintenance is definitely better than weight gain if you are overweight.

The American Council for Fitness and Nutrition, a nonprofit organization of food and beverage companies, is advocating a simple 50-50 approach to help Americans maintain weight. Simply by cutting 50 calories a day in your food intake and burning an extra 50 calories through physical activity, odds are you will keep the scale steady. That amounts to increasing your brisk walk by 10 minutes or reducing your bowl of ice cream by 2 tablespoons. Doable -- you bet. Of course, more serious weight loss might be the best option for you, especially if it is on a sound program (such as WebMD's Weight Loss Clinic) that teaches you how to correct the behaviors that led to the weight gain. In the meantime, shaving calories is a huge first step toward controlling your weight and squelching the annual weight gain.

Is Weight Gain Inevitable?

Expanding waistlines have always been viewed as a fact of life. Contrary to popular belief, a recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that simple lifestyle changes helped maintained weight in a long-term study of 17,000 men. The men that did not gain weight over the nine-year period, ate less trans fats, more fiber, watched less television, walked regularly, and lifted weights 30 minutes per week and actually lost a belt size. These study participants averaged 30% of their calories from fat, 50% from carbohydrates and consumed 22 grams of fiber per day. The men adopted lifestyles and diets that were healthy. You can learn from their success by adopting small changes in your daily life, including more physical activity, fiber, and choosing foods with less trans fats.

Shave 100 Calories

If you can shave 100 calories by calorie reduction and/or increased physical activity, it will be a tremendous effort toward controlling your weight. While it might not whittle away the pounds, it will certainly keep the needle on the scale from moving forward. Try to adopt at least one of the following 100 calorie changes each day, complement the dietary change with increased physical activity and weight maintenance will change into slow and steady weight loss, the permanent kind. Here are some tips to help you get started finding easy ways to cut 100 calories:

  • Buy a pedometer and walk an extra 2,000 steps, roughly equivalent to a mile and 100 calories.
  • Eat a high-fiber breakfast that will help reduce the quantity of food eaten at lunch.
  • Use mustard or low-fat mayonnaise on your sandwich instead of regular mayonnaise.
  • Have a piece of fresh fruit instead of cookies or chips.
  • Drink diet soda instead of regular soda.
  • Choose sherbet or sorbet over super premium ice cream.
  • Use 2 tablespoons of light whipped butter or margarine instead of regular.
  • Top your favorite pasta with a red sauce instead of a cream sauce.
  • Skip the blue cheese topping on your salad.
  • Order a small drink instead of a super-sized drink.
  • Hold the bacon on your sandwich or at breakfast.
  • Use water-packed tuna instead of oil packed.
  • Eat a snack-sized chocolate bar instead of a whole candy bar.
  • Order your pizza with veggies instead of high-fat meat toppings.
  • Eat an appetizer as your main meal instead of an entree.
  • Skip the extra butter shot on your movie theater popcorn.
  • Order your sandwich on whole grain bread instead of a croissant or bagel.
  • Leave the crust on the pie and enjoy the filling.
  • Leave 3-4 bites of food on your plate.
  • Pass on the gravy on your mashed potatoes.
  • Try an open-faced sandwich with only one slice of bread.

Choosing the right foods can give you energy all day long. A healthier diet that is lower in calories will also make you feel better, look better, and be healthier for you. By becoming more aware of the foods that you choose, and making small and simple changes every day, you will definitely maintain and potentially lose weight. Try to adopt several 100-calorie changes every day for permanent weight loss results.

Originally published Oct. 15, 2004
Medically updated Jan. 20, 2004.

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